March 10, 2009
by Melissa Simonetti

Event: Films and Conversations with the Architects: Steven Holl: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Bloch Building. Producer: Edgar B. Howard. Director: Tom Piper
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.19.09
Speakers: Steven Holl, AIA — Founder & Principal, Steven Holl Architects; Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Organizers: Checkerboard Film Foundation; AIANY
Sponsors (film): Peter Jay Sharp Foundation

The New Bloch Building and the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

When the competition to design the addition of the Nelson-Atkins Museum was held in 1999, all of the entrants presented a design on the north side of the site. Steven Holl, AIA, however, suggested otherwise with his proposal called “stone and feather,” which placed the addition on the east side, perpendicular to the existing building. At the Center for Architecture, Holl explained, through film and discussion, the process to make his vision into a building that combines light with architecture, art, and landscape.

The film, produced by Edgar B. Howard and directed by Tom Piper, illustrated how the Bloch Building works with the existing museum to create an unfolding experience for visitors. Traveling from the Nelson-Atkins Museum through the sculpture park, Holl placed five glass “lenses” partially buried in the landscape. During the day, these lenses create varying qualities of light and perspectives for the galleries, and at night they glow like “lanterns” to illuminate the garden. Circulation and exhibition come together as a winding course, which gives shifting views of the galleries, outside sculpture, and the original museum.

After the screening, Holl talked more about museum and presented three other projects currently in the works: The Knut Hamsun Center in Hamaroy, Norway; Nanjing Museum of Art and Architecture in Nanjing, China; and the Herning Center for the Arts in Herning, Denmark. He explained that all of the projects are connected, not just because they are museums, but also because the designs consider the “particularities of the program.” Architecture is not about style, he concluded. Instead, the “site and circumstance” of the place are important, and he tries to re-examine this idea with every new project he encounters.

Melissa Simonetti is an architectural designer at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and a new contributor to e-Oculus.


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